The Cardinals-Badgers Scandal

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The Chicago cardinals-Milwaukee Badgers Scandal was a game fixing scandal involving the game between the Chicago Cardinals and the now defunct Milwaukee Badgers of the NFL. The main architect of the scandal was Cardinals player Art Forts who hired a group of high school players to replace the Badgers roster for that game in order to make it easy for the Cardinals to win.

What was the Motive of the Scandal?

The main goal of the scandal was to help improve the Cardinals’ win-loss percentage in order to increase their chances of overtaking the Pottsville Maroons in the standings for the 1925 Championships. In the run in to the Championship, the Maroons and the Cardinals were neck and neck for the title with the Maroons on 9-2 and the Cardinals on 9-1-1. However, because the Maroons had beaten the Cardinals at the Comiskey Park earlier in the season, they held a half-game lead at the top of the league. Until 1932, teams scheduled their own fixtures including the teams they would play, and there was no fixed minimum or maximum number of games a team could play each season.

The team with the best record was declared NFL Champion. For this reason, it was common practice for teams to schedule some extra easy games in in the hope of improving their record and climb up the ranking. The Cardinals swiftly arranged two extra fixtures against the Milwaukee Badgers and the Hammond Pros, two teams that had disbanded and left the NFL the previous year. Badgers owner Ambrose McGuirk lived in Chicago so it was difficult for him to get the team together in time for the game. Art Folz, a quarterback for the Cardinals who was an Englewood High School alumnus talked to four players from his former high school and convinced them to fill the roster for the Badgers under fake names in order to avoid facing a full strength Badgers team.

According to some reports, Folz had lied to the high school players that the match was a practice match and would have no consequences on their amateur careers. Folz’s actions were not sanctioned by Cardinals owner Chris O’Brien but he did sense that something was wrong and allowed spectators to watch the game free. The game, played on December 10, 1925 at Normal Park in Chicago ended 58-0 in the Cardinal’s favor after which they beat the Hammond Pros 13-0 two days later.

Consequences of the Chicago Cardinals-Milwaukee Badgers scandal

The NFL learned of the roster tampering a few weeks after the game and told reporters that the game would be struck off the Cardinals’ record. However, that never materialized and the win remains part of the team’s NFL record to date. Initially three parties were sanctioned for the scandal. Chris O’Brien was fined $1000 despite lack of evidence that he was actually involved, Ambrose McGuirk was ordered to sell the team within 90 days and Folz was banned for life from NFL football.

However the punishments were softened the following summer. O’Brien’s fine and Folz’s lifetime ban were lifted. However, the pardons came too late for McGuirk who had already sold the Badgers to Chicago Bears player Johnny Bryan. In the end, the scandal had little bearing on the NFL title destination. The Maroons had a scandal of their own which was treated much more seriously by the NFL. Coinciding with the Cardinals’ game against the Hammond Pros, the Maroons scheduled an extra game of their own against the Notre-Dame All-stars.

In order to accommodate the huge fan interest, the game was set to be played at the Shibe Park in Philadephia rather than the Maroons’ Minersville Park in Pottsville. However the move violated the Frankford Yellow Jackets’ territorial rights by playing in Philadelphia. The Yellow Jackets complained to the league and the NFL warned the Maroons to move the fixture to a different venue or face sanctions. Pottsville ignored the warning and would go on to win the game 9-7, effectively winning the league. However, the NFL fined the Maroons and suspended them from the league, which made them ineligible for the title.

The title was awarded to the Cardinals despite their own violations and O’Briens refusal to accept it. The league’s rationale for the decision was that the Cardinals had not defied the league unlike the Maroons. In 1926, the AFL came into existence and the NFL panicked, reinstating the Maroons to prevent them from strengthening the rival league. The Cardinals-Maroons scandal is believed to have brought a curse on the Cardinals which saw them enjoy much less success than their crosstown rivals, the Bears in subsequent seasons.